Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

Michael Jennings MEd, MS, CSCS
Director of Health Body

Allow me to paint you a picture.  A picture of a one-of-a-kind classroom.  In this classroom you’ll find a few more students than in a typical class, but that’s OK because each one of them is actively engaged in the day’s lesson.  In this classroom differentiation occurs daily for each individual student. The students are primed and actively working on the tasks at hand with a growth mindset, understanding that “it’s not where I am now that’s important, but it’s where I COULD be with hard work and dedication.”  Social and emotional learning is baked into the very core of this class’s subject matter. Students know how to set goals and what is necessary to reach those goals. They understand and respect their peers as individuals with varying backgrounds, experiences, desires, and abilities. They work cooperatively on a regular basis to complete tasks, achieve goals, and foster enjoyment of their learning.  They take healthy risks as they push themselves outside of their comfort zone.

Sound pretty awesome?!

Well, what if I told you that on top of all that, students focusing on this class’s content tend to stay more focused throughout the day?  What if I said these students in this class tend to be in better moods and are less likely to experience depression? Or, this class’s subject matter builds self-esteem and confidence, while at the same time lessens disruptive behavior, thus decreasing other teachers time spent on managing that behavior!  When the students leave this class, they are primed for learning. This class acts as a springboard to academic success and achieve not only in the classroom but on standardized tests!

Too good to be true?!

Not yet! Because not only does this classroom do all of this, but this class has the ability to be the foundation for the culture of the entire school.  The very nature of this class can be used as the catalyst for developing and maintaining school norms, values, and beliefs.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows…

This class is also being marginalized.  It is regularly discarded as unimportant and unnecessary.  It often gets pushed to the back burner due to the pressure for improvements in academic test scores.  Students are constantly being removed from the class for interventions and additional help in other subjects.  This class (even though it’s so remarkable) doesn’t often get visited by fellow teachers or even administrators.  Fellow teachers and administrators rarely ask students how this class is going, or what they are doing in it. Some of the teachers of this class are not held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof), they coast by while neglecting to plan, assess, and sometimes even grade.  At times, the teachers focus on other duties within the school/district, while their class and its students are an afterthought. Often, administrators struggle to provide effective evaluations of this class or its teachers. The opportunities for quality and relevant professional development are few and far between.  These opportunities typically must come out of the teacher’s pocket while also taking personal days because the institute days built into the school calendar don’t cover topics that can help the class.

What class might I be painting a picture of?  What content area have I described? Kind of a tough one? The first few paragraphs seemed to be a little too good to be true, maybe you couldn’t figure it out then…But maybe by the last paragraph, when things went south, you were able to piece it together…

The answer: (drumroll please) PHYSICAL EDUCATION

That’s right, PE!  Did you guess the picture right?! I know, I didn’t mention single thing about the health and fitness of our students.  That’s because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that physical activity is “good for you” and that “kids these days aren’t as active as they used to be!”  And believe me, I understand that the first few paragraphs were a bit utopian! The only weekday that compares to that scenario is Friday, late afternoon, when you get to the staff happy hour!  BUT, each of the items mentioned in those first two paragraphs are actual, scientifically backed, benefits of physical activity and physical education (when done right). These are the things that people (including some PE teachers) don’t think about or recognize with regard to physical education.  Most only think about fitness and fighting the obesity/sedentary behavior epidemic.  We also don’t recognize the power that investing time, energy, and resources into our PE programs can have on our school.  The third paragraph is there because we all need to remember that often, PE is the ONLY class that sees EVERY student in the building.  There aren’t many ways to set and teach the necessary components of a positive school culture.

The final paragraph (whilst “painting the picture”) shifts from the idealistic to the realistic.  It’s the current state of physical education. PE has lost its way. We can all agree that not having a means to offer these remarkable benefits to our students, coupled with health and fitness, is a major problem.  So, my question to you is:

Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution?

Administrators

  • Have you visited a class (for non-eval purposes) in the past month? Were any of them PE classes?
  • Do you allow students to be pulled from PE classes for intervention?
  • Do you ask PE teachers what their professional development needs are?
  • Do you feel like your teacher evaluations are relevant and/or effective for physical educators?
  • Do you know what school’s PE budget is?
  • Do you hold your physical educators to the same standards as classroom teachers?
  • Do you visit your PE teachers during team meetings?
  • Have you even mentioned PE in your correspondence with families (social media, monthly email, etc.)
  • Do you promote movement in the classroom?

Classroom Teachers

  • Have you visited any of your PE classes?
  • Do you encourage movement in your class?
  • Do you ask students what they are doing in PE?
  • Do you talk about physical activity with your students?
  • Do you make jokes with students about PE?
  • Do you reinforce the importance of movement and physical education?
  • Have you pulled a student from PE for more time in your class?
  • Do you collaborate with PE teachers for cross curricular content?

Physical Educators

  • Do you plan for each one of your classes or just for the day?
  • Do you intentionally teach fundamental movement and sport skills?
  • Do you have a plan for “fitness days?”
  • Do you have a WHY behind what you have students do in your class?
  • Do you differentiate your teaching for your students?
  • Do you have a regular, effective assessment plan?
  • Do you work to create a culture of trying new things and not fearing failure?
  • Do you do you engage parents and families?
  • Do you engage your administration?
  • Do you engage classroom teachers?
  • Do you plan for coaching responsibilities during class?
  • Do you work collaboratively with other PE teachers in your school? In your district?
  • When was the last time you attended a class, conference, webinar, grad-school, etc?

So, I ask again, are you a part of the problem or part of the solution?  In truth, we have found ourselves in an interesting situation where all of us are a part of the problem AND the solution.  From administration to classroom teachers to physical educators, the words we speak, our actions, and our decisions tip the scale in either direction.  It’s up to us to decide which direction that is.

Michael Jennings has nearly 10 years of experience teaching and coaching at every level. He has a Master’s Degree in both Secondary Education: Curriculum & Assessment and Exercise Physiology. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has nearly a decade of experience in various youth development fields at both the public and private sectors. Michael is a proponent of physical literacy, long term athletic development and the holistic development/education of all students. Currently Michael works for Athlos, an educational service provider, where is serves as the Director of Healthy Body. In this role, he is dedicated to redefining physical education. He provides virtual and on site professional development and support for physical educators in all things movement, fitness, physical activity, and coaching. He is a regular presenter at local, state, and regional conferences. His presentation topics have included: showing student growth, assessment & feedback, use of data in PE, curriculum development, developing a culture of physical activity in schools, long term athletic development, youth resistance training, communicating with students, fundamental movement skills, and much more.

Twitter: @THEschmike